Rookie goalie has big hand in Canada's gold

If you're an Olympic rookie goalie playing on Canada's women's hockey team, you don't spend much time on the bench soaking in the experience.

If you're an Olympic rookie goalie playing on the Canadian women's hockey team, you don't spend much time on the bench soaking in the experience.

Despite the wealth of goaltending experience on a team that boasted Kim St-Pierre and Charlene Labonté — the netminders from the 2002 and 2006 Olympic victories — coach Melody Davidson opted to start rookie Shannon Szabados of Edmonton in net for Thursday's gold-medal game against the arch-rival United States.

Predicting the future

Remember the name Shannon Szabados — it's possible the Canadian women's team will be pinning its gold-medal hopes on the ambitious goaltender at the 2010 Winter Olympics.

"I'd like to think [I'm in their plans] but nothing's guaranteed after one tournament. It's three years away, so I have a lot more work to do," admitted Szabados.

— from Szabados kick starts Canadian dream, originally published by on Dec. 13, 2006.

Davidson's faith in the 23-year-old with limited international experience turned out to be a genius move as Szabados posted her second shutout of the tournament.

Aside from the gold medal, Szabados shares something else in common with the other veteran netminders on Team Canada. They were all Olympic rookies when they backstopped Canada to gold.

Szabados is no stranger to playing in situations where observers might not expect her to succeed. She has always played men's hockey, from the beginning of her career.

She played minor hockey in Edmonton with current Toronto Maple Leaf Dion Phaneuf and now she plays for the men's team at Grant MacEwen College.

It should come as no surprise that Szabados wasn't fazed at all about facing the high-powered Americans in the gold-medal final.

She was confident when she came out to play the puck, and flashed her glove while making difficult saves look routine, stopping all 28 shots she faced.

Coach confident

Davidson knew the youngster would be up to the task.

"I'll never forget the first meeting I had with her and she said, 'the only thing I have to ask you, Mel, is that I can have one game against the U.S. this year,'" Davidson recalled.

Szabados was determined to make her fifth career outing against the Americans one to remember.

"I just tried to be as calm, poised and ready as I could," she said. "I had a game earlier in the year against the Americans and I was pretty nervous and didn't play my best. Today, I tried to relax and have fun.

"You always want to be confident back there. It gives them confidence in me, hopefully, to take the chances at the other end."

It likely opened a few doors for Canada's forwards, especially another Olympic rookie, 18-year-old Marie-Philip Poulin, who scored both goals in the game.

Later, Poulin raised a few eyebrows when photographers caught the underage gold medallist downing beer during the postgame celebration.

Although she didn't hit the score sheet in the gold-medal game, Meghan Agosta of Ruthven, Ont., earned tournament MVP honours for scoring nine goals in five games. Agosta broke Danielle Goyette's record from the 1998 Nagano Games when she lit the lamp eight times.

Bright future

Team Canada's victory also gave five key veterans — Hayley Wickenheiser, Becky Keller, Jayna Hefford, Jennifer Botterill and Becky Kellar — their third Olympic gold medal and fourth medal overall.

But the rookies on this team were particularly impressive, indicating the sport's future is in good hands — at least in Canada.

Although Szabados was playing in her first Olympics, many people saw signs of greatness when she first donned the Team Canada jersey in 2006 during the Four Nations Cup.

In her debut, she shut out the Americans 3-0.

"It was something else," Szabados told at the time. "Coming into [the Four Nations Cup] I didn't really know what to expect. I was hoping to get into the game."

She admits to being nervous back then, but has always prided herself on being able to perform well under pressure.

Szabados said her first days with the national team were all about learning from the veterans like St-Pierre, Goyette and Wickenheiser.

But if Canada's recent trend in the past three Olympic tournaments is any indication, rookies can teach the vets a thing or two as well.

With files from The Canadian Press